The True Seed of Character Development

Casting is the process by which characters are born.  By choosing an actor suddenly the character is given eyes, hands, and a heart: the whole palette of humanity.  Directors are looking for the performer who brings her character to life, so that she is no longer an idea or words on a page but rather living, breathing, walking and speaking right before their very eyes.

Take the famous instance of the movie “The Graduate.”  The script is looking for the actor who can make Mike Nichols (the director) believe that Benjamin Braddock (the character) is actually in the same room.

Sure, Robert Redford might have been a more appealing choice for box office sales, but the previously unknown Dustin Hoffman was more believable as an underdog.  What makes this story exceptional in Hollywood casting lore is that Hoffman won the part through his craft.

Dustin Hoffman is no more or less innately an underdog than Robert Redford.  What Hoffman did was conceive of Braddock as an underdog, infuse those characteristics of himself into the character, and then convince Mike Nichols through his audition that that’s how the part must be portrayed.

This level of insight comes from an actor who spends enough time imagining the character’s struggles to dig past his occupation, his interests, or even his personality.  It’s not really an intellectual pursuit at all.  It requires spending time investing yourself in the script’s imaginary circumstances; really living in the crook of a particular character’s struggles and then noticing what comes up for you.

If you’re open to the trials and travails of the character, you will start to notice a transformation taking root in your breath.  What’s the true seed of character development? The breath.  How the character breathes is how the character thinks.  Every movement and every spoken idea begins and ends with breath.  It’s what bridges the impulses of the imagination and shapes the dynamics of speech and movement.  Look into it.

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